Authoritarianism vs. Libertarianism

So far in our analysis, we’ve framed up a continuum with the extremes at either end: the absolute totalitarian state at one end and a void of any state at the other: anarchy. In the last post, we modified the terms to accommodate how this applies to state control over the economic arena.

In this post, I’ll modify the terms a bit more to describe the control of the state more generally over society at large:

Authoritarianism v. Libertarianism

Okay, so it’s self-explanatory enough! But allow me, if you will, to offer a bit of commentary. Let’s start with authoritarianism.

Authoritarianism, in essence, is related to totalitarianism. Combining various definitions and descriptions of the terms and my own study of history and policy, I define a condensed definition of authoritarianism as dominance of the state over the individual and society (duh!). A basic Google search of the term offers this definition from Wikipedia: “a form of government dominated by strong central power and limited political freedoms.” A key finding of my study into the various different political applications of the term is a lack of accountability on the part of the state.

This, too, operates on a range. As the state becomes increasingly dominant over individuals and society, it becomes increasingly authoritarian (especially as it loses accountability and increasingly limits political opposition).

Now for libertarianism. At some point in the near-term, I certainly intend to offer a more detailed specification on the history of libertarianism (especially how, if you lived in the 1700s, the modern day libertarian would have been regarded as a liberal), but for now, a few basics must suffice. Libertarianism, contrary to the views many readers will have of pro-gay, pro-abortion, pro-marijuana activists, is merely related to the term liberty. As states have less and less dominance over individuals and society, that society becomes increasingly libertarian. In essence: more free.

Complicated? Not a bit, of course! But I would be remiss if I did not offer a quick description of these terms and include them in our fundamentals.

Now, this does not preclude the idea that libertarianism is most certainly a strict ideology based in property rights and holding the belief that government should be as minimal as possible in all areas and functions (and certainly, the ultimate extent of this is debated among those of the libertarian ideology). But it is often important to understand generalized terms prior to understanding the specific ideologies that adopt those terms as labels.


Anarchy, Capitalism, Socialism & Totalitarianism

We are finally going to start to overlap a bit into economics (no…don’t leave!)! Fear not; I will make economics clear for all who approached that class in high school or college with dread. In this particular post, however, we’re just dipping our toes in; we’re not jumping headlong in just yet. Hold out for that.

Here is the liberty vs. totalitarianism continuum again, with one modification:

Tot. v. An-Cap

Of course, you noticed that I replaced the word liberty with anarcho-capitalism. I already introduced you to that term in the previous post, but in this post I am going to specifically add a few more items that need to be fleshed out going forward.

First, a few more comments on anarchy. Having just begun my school year as a teacher, I asked my students in American Government what they thought of anarchy. The usual responses are somewhat predictable: a state of chaos, dog-eat-dog, lawlessness, et cetera.

Arguments about implications aside, that is not what anarchy is. Anarchy, as I said before, is merely a condition of statelessness—the absolute void of a state.

Now, to get into the more economic terms. What are capitalism and socialism? We hear these terms thrown around all the time:  Hillary Clinton wants to save us from the ills of capitalism. Bernie Sanders is a self-proclaimed socialist. Venezuela, Sweden and Denmark are all socialist. The U.S. and Hong Kong are capitalist.

The fact of the matter is, Venezuela and Sweden are worlds apart in terms of economic policy. (And we’ll clear up this very specifically in time.) In many respects, so are the U.S. and Hong Kong. So what do these terms really mean?

Let’s go old-school here for a moment (bear with me!) and get a Merriam-Webster definition for each:

Capitalism is “an economic system characterized by private or corporate ownership of capital goods…and by prices, production and the distribution of goods that are determined mainly by competition in a free market.” (*)

Socialism, in contrast, is “any of various and political theories advocating collective or government ownership and administration of the means of production and distribution of goods.” (*)

I am not 100% satisfied with these definitions and further clarifications are necessary, I think; that will be the attention of the remainder of this and the next several posts. For now, let us revisit the idea of anarcho-capitalism: a state in which the market has absolutely no infringement from any state. Everything—the resources, the means of production, the production process, and the distribution process—is owned by individuals.

As one proceeds from right to left on the continuum, they move steadily closer toward totalitarianism. This progression is a steady increase in socialism—a steady increase in the influence of government in the market economy. Every movement left from a state of absolute anarcho-capitalism is an increase in socialism to some extent, that is (at risk of redundancy), an increase in government control over any or all of each of the following: the resources, the means of production, the production process, and the distribution process.

Therefore, socialism is not a “point” on the continuum, but a range. Still, this bears a bit of pragmatic qualification. Calling Venezuela a socialist country is certainly more true than calling the U.S. a socialist country, even though both have elements of socialism, one much more than the other. To be sure, I will utilize the practical, generalized definition of socialism as a description of nations, but I think understanding the range associated with the term is needed first.

And of course, at the far left we find ourselves in the condition in which the state has absolute control (there is no economic freedom). This was virtually the case of Soviet Russia under Stalin, as much as his secret police could enforce it. (An estimated 4 million Soviet Ukrainians died of starvation from 1932-1934, as it was Soviet policy to grow the food in the fertile Ukraine and transport it to the industrial workers is Russia.)

To conclude, let’s take one more look at the reverse direction. As one moves from left to right, we find an alternative increase in capitalism and incremental freedom.

Increasing Capitalism and Socialism

The whole point here is that socialism and capitalism operate on a range, or along the continuum, between anarcho-capitalism and totalitarianism.

Naturally, the diligent reader will note that this discussion necessarily has an economic focus at the neglect of social, ethical, fiscal or other issues. That’s all coming up.

(* provides the link to the original source)


The Issue of Standards

I’m going to start this post with the first of the two continuums that I included in the last post.

Liberal v. Conservative

                       “the left”                                             vs.                                             “the right”

Since it’s been a few days since my previous post, I’ll come back to that now and expand a bit. (Please don’t feel insulted that I would suggest that my readers aren’t smart enough to get it; that is not at all my suggestion! I’d just like to unpack this a bit.)

Regarding the first continuum, whereby the political and economic paradigm, if you will, is framed between liberal and conservative ideology, or what people will often refer to as “left wing” or “right wing,” the first major that needs to be addressed is…

…there is no solidly identifiable standard by which either can be compared. All we have, as I pointed out a few posts ago, is a sort of nebulous “tends to” sort of stereotypes about each side.

Let’s look at the extremes to help make this point. Somehow, Fascists (and Nazis) get thrown in on occasion far on the right and communists and socialists get thrown in far on the left. According to what standard? Are Nazis far on the right because they are extreme nationalists? Then leftists must be anti-nationalists. And that standard falls apart.

Are communists and socialists on the far left because they seek an equality and government redistribution as a means to ensure that equality (and in the case of communism, ultimately eliminate private property)? If that defines the standard, then how do we contend with the idea that most fascist regimes employed the same government control over the economy that socialists do.  (Even the Nazi party, by the way, was the National Socialist German Worker’s Party.) And that standard falls apart.

See how nonsensical this is? The attempt at establishing a standard baseline for understanding “left” vs. “right” becomes even more precarious as you move from these extremes. The whole “each side tends to” approach is hardly canon across the board.

(A brief anticipation: I expect that my more traditional conservative readers will find among them the protest that moral issues, such as abortion, drug use, or marriage-related issues play a key defining feature. They are not altogether incorrect, but it still does not get beyond a “tends to”–even if strongly–argument. It is still too narrow a focus and doesn’t account for other important issues, such as fiscal matters. Don’t worry; these issues are important to me, and I will tackle them in time!)

Now to return to my preferred continuum for our context:

Liberty v. Tyranny

In this paradigm, the standards are concretely defined. Any framework of understanding must have fully definable standards in order to truly understand the range between.

On the far right is liberty. The state of utter and complete liberty in political, social and economic life is called Anarcho-Capitalism. (Incidentally, the slang for those who believe that this is ultimately the ideal state calls themselves “an-caps”.) Anarcho, of course, is drawn from anarchy, defined as a state-free society, and capitalism ties in the economic aspect that the market is likewise 100% free of any involvement from any authority.

On the far left is totalitarianism, which is absolute control by the state. Merriam-Webster defies totalitarianism as “the political concept that the citizen should be totally subject to an absolute state authority” (Merriam-Webster).

Both of these extremes are absolute, and because they are absolute and definable, they create a standard by which we can measure and understand state control to varying degrees from one end to the other.

And this will help us understand much more of the specifics of those varying degrees as we proceed.


Outside the Box

Now to get out of the stereotypes and actually back up to understand them in context.

(Quick comment: As you’ve noticed, some of these early posts are necessarily broad and abstract. Don’t worry; I will be delving into specifics on a myriad of topics in the future. But what sort of blog would start with, “Hi, I’m Lukas. The unfunded liabilities of Social Security and Medicare is over $100 trillion. Enjoy your afternoon”…? Certainly not a blog that will keep many readers returning.)

As a teacher, it is my most sincere goal to stay out of what Tom Woods calls the “3 by 5 card of allowable opinion,” by which he means the framework of understanding between the stereotypes of conservative and liberal. And while you can continue to read (and please subscribe!) because there is nothing else to do (right?!), it truly is my goal, as I made clear introducing this blog, to bring clarity, greater understanding and to truly help shed light on truth.

And truth is often outside the box.

This is my framework for understanding politics: liberty vs. totalitarianism. If you disagree with my fundamental paradigm, at least keep reading until I defend my position in advocacy of liberty (like, as I keep saying with a great many matters, I will in coming posts).

Here is what most of the social world around us seems to want us to believe:

Liberal v. ConservativeThis, rather, is the continuum through which I view the political / economic world:

Liberty v. Tyranny

In the coming weeks, I’ll be elaborating on this continuum of understanding in light of its political, social and economic ramifications and the ways it can be understood in those areas. For now, allow yourself to start mulling over this continuum, if you have not already done so. Think about its implications yourself in the world around you, in what you read on Facebook and what you hear on the news.

And if you’re wondering about the way I seemed to entirely change tracks after the three posts on human nature and the state, it’ll all get looped back around and tied together in time; don’t worry. Stick with me.


Liberal vs. Conservative?


As readers have probably already gathered clearly enough, I hardly fit into the left vs. right paradigm as the media world and talking heads of today would like me to, I am sure.

Let’s take a bit of a step back and see if we can get a bit of clarity in the midst of the Democrats vs. Republicans, liberals vs. conservatives framework that we’re supposed to fit into. Now, I will grant you, not all Democrats are liberal and not all Republicans are conservative, and to even suggest a correlation, which on some level certainly is true, ignores a vast number of nuances of the terms liberal and conservative that need to be addressed. I will not hit on them all here, but look for those in the coming blogs.

This post will merely deal with the basics, and to that end, a few quick summaries are in order.

What is a liberal? Well, in a strictly apolitical sense, to be liberal is to generally advocate change, advancement (whatever that looks like) and progress (again, whatever that looks like). In many respects, it is to go against the norm. In the United States, we often substitute the term progressive for liberal.

The broad description of the apolitical conservative, then, serves as the benchmark for what a liberal is. To be conservative is to adhere to what has been, to advocate tradition, to “conserve” the ways things are or have been.

Now, clearly these terms have far wider meanings that are hardly confined to their apolitical descriptions, but that basic understanding will be important to recall as I proceed through upcoming posts, and seems appropriate to deal with now before we proceed. In fact, modern day adherents to the fundamentals of libertarianism would once have been considered liberals, and I’ll make sure to clear up that odd change in the future.

Now, to get to our current, generalized understanding. Liberals (or progressives) are those who tend to desire a greater involvement of the state as regulator and enforcer of strict economic policy. They tend to favor higher redistribution of wealth from higher income earners to lower income earners, and generally higher taxes to that end. They tend to favor the enforcement of anti-discrimination law (in today’s society; this was the opposite until the 1960s). They tend to favor the relaxed regulation on what might be considered moral or ethical issues, such as abortion and same-sex marriage. Much of their rhetoric is focused on ensuring “equality” – economically, socially, et cetera.

Conservatives, alternatively, tend to favor less government enforcement of economic policy, at least in rhetoric. They tend to favor lower redistribution of wealth, but maintain that it must, as a general rule, remain progressive (as opposed to flat, though that idea has gained tiny following). They tend to favor tighter regulation of what might be considered moral or ethical issues. And much of their rhetoric is focused on ensuring “fiscal responsibility” and “a fair playing field.”

Two reactions can immediately result from these summaries:

First, there are far more stereotypes that can made and that I abuse both groups by their exclusion.

Second, that I abuse both groups simply by attempting to force them into stereotypical boxes.

Liberals will jump up and say, “We are about helping the poor and middle class, whereas all the conservatives want to do is make the rich richer!”

Conservatives will likewise react, “You forgot to mention our insistence that we maintain our military strength instead of the way liberals undermine our national sovereignty!”

Either abuse, it makes no difference to me, and that is exactly my point. I feel more obligated than desirous to try and create some relative similarities with the current understanding of each group.

It is not that these generalities are not altogether without merit, but that the media and establishment information-promulgators all around us try to force us into a framework that understands politics within it. Well, I won’t have it. I get that part out of the way so that I can readily move on. But that’s for the next post.


Water (aka Human Nature) and the State

The LawI’ve made two arguments. First, that human nature is like water in that it tends to follow the path of least resistance in the pursuit of needs and desires and second, that the state is a monopoly on force. So how in the world do these two concepts relate?

In his superlative essay called “The Law”, 19th Century French Philosopher Frederick Bastiat laid out this case beautifully as he observed and assessed the major socialist movements in France and elsewhere across Europe (another history meriting some narrative that I don’t have time for here). What he keenly observed was this: that in the midst of their extensive and intensive poverty, people across Europe were looking increasingly toward the government as a means to better their lives at the expense of others—something that would have seemed unimaginable just centuries or even, in many countries, decades before.

Why? The necessarily short version: because a wave of “revolutions” produced governments that were becoming increasingly accountable to the people.

Well, that’s excellent! comes the reply. If you are opposed to that, you must be an advocate for tyranny under a central dictator!

Excellent or not, allow me to defend myself before I am branded an authoritarian (which is so far from true that it is laughable…but I have to convince you of that before you are able to actually laugh). I am no advocate of a central dictator; their track record of respecting private property is no better, and typically far worse than a republican or quasi-republican government!

What Bastiat observed was that people were using the new responsiveness of the government (“if I provide what these voters want, I will get re-elected”) as a tool of plunder. While it was obviously wrong to steal from their neighbors, they found it quite justifiable to elect an official who would do the stealing for them.

And as the counter-argument runs: then it’s not stealing. Why not? Let’s put another label on it, as Bastiat did, and call it, as he did: legal plunder. Certainly, electing officials who take from some to give to others is legal from the point of view that a government is legitimate.

Once again, I must dismiss implicated arguments and tangents in order to pursue my main topic in building foundations; we will put aside the question of legitimacy once more. The key point right now is “water” and the state. As the state became increasingly used as a means to take from some and give to others, more and more and more and more groups within society saw it and lobbied it and pressured it and bribed it and threatened it in order that they, too, could use it as a tool to take from some and give to others.

That is what human nature does. If, by and large, people must work to provide for their families, they will work. But if there is a path of lesser resistance, namely, the state, by which they can ease the work which they must put in for their ends, they will ultimately pursue it as a general principle. And for the immediate cries that I do not care for the miserable masses of 19th Century Europe, or the blue collar workers of today struggling paycheck to paycheck, I will annul your fears through philosophical and utilitarian arguments alike over the coming months. (Convincing you that all welfare redistribution programs actually do more harm than good is not an easy task, but I shall tackle it anyway.)

But for now, let me remind you that anywhere between 12,000 and 15,000 lobbyists are registered in Washington D.C. each year and millions upon millions of dollars are spent each year by the corporations that can afford them—the largest ones—to protect their products, their goals, their markets, et cetera. See? It is the path of least resistance if it is effective. When water cannot overcome a barrier, it will find a different way and divert its attention. In simple terms: if it were not effective, the money and time would not be spent as it is.

And do not think that the water principle does not apply to those elected to Washington. They also, as a general rule, follow the path of least resistance. It is far easier to find re-election campaign funds and donations from businesses and organizations whose interests are protected by the state.

Ultimately, when an entity with a monopoly on force can be used to achieve one’s ends easier than working for it in other ways, especially if that entity is legitimate in the eyes of the people, that path of least resistance becomes the path most taken.


What is the State?

WashingtonDCFirst of all, before we can really get much further at all, we must understand the answer to this question: What is the state?

Certainly, there are various practical definitions of state that we should not altogether bypass. A state to the common social studies teacher is a political entity consisting of boarders and a government. True enough, for its purpose in education and understanding modern states (which are, incidentally, a phenomenon of the last few hundred years…another topic for another time!).

A state in the United States can also be thought of as the people of that state. For example, as a resident of Arkansas, I could debate about the state of Arkansas as being considered backwards and redneck. By state here we mean, of course, the people of Arkansas. (I would readily argue against that stereotype for the part I am familiar with.)

Understanding that other concepts of state could be addressed, I’ll leave those two standing and proceed to the more appropriate definition for the purpose of this blog.

The state is what most people in passing reference call the government. Government gets its name from the idea that it governs—whether it does so well or not is another matter. There are those who argue that there is a difference between state and government, and I am happy to leave them their argument without animosity and proceed with my own. (For a well-thought-out post on this, read “Words Matter” at the Things Not Seen blog.) For our purposes, then, the state is whatever person or body of people has been given or claimed authority over others.

Wait! I hear the protests already. In the United States, we have a government properly chosen by the people in as close to a republic as we can get, the pundits proclaim. Sure, in some sense, I suppose, but that monster I shall fight another day. It does not matter to me right now, in this argument, how the state came to be.

In essence, the state is a monopoly on force. Whether the state because they are stronger than any other, or the state because they are chosen by their people in a purely republican fashion, they have a monopoly to force people to do as they instruct.

And already, four posts in, I have earned the reputation of dark cynic. But am I wrong? I am not speaking—yet—of legitimacy, but merely of fact. We pay our taxes because we accept that our government—the state—has a legitimate claim to force us to do so if we do not. We follow the speed limit (if you are among the rare few of us who do) because the state can fine us if we do not. Whether legitimate or not, the state is a monopoly on force.

We’ll come back later to that question of legitimacy to satisfy the frustrated demands that I address the difference between the state and a gang, which may also have a monopoly on force in a neighborhood or city.

(And to quickly clarify: I do not advocate a total state of anarchy, for those who interpret my cynical definition of state as advocacy for no state at all. But I’ll make my case on that eventually.)

For now, I have laid enough foundation to proceed with my argument about water: human nature.


Human Nature is Like Water


People are like water. At least, in one way critical to understanding why I would even bother creating this entire blog.

As a Christian, I believe that human nature is inherently bent toward sin. Many libertarians and liberty-minded people disagree with me. Well, frankly, I think most people disagree with me.

But whether or not you agree with that premise, I think I can win my case about water.

Water always takes the path of least resistance. It will not climb a hill when it could run down a ravine. It will readily spray from the faucet where a hose has been poorly connected while leaving the plants at the other end just as parched as before. But it is an obvious enough idea that it really doesn’t merit further examples.

Still, allow me to make the connection to human nature. With exceptions that are more rare than normal, most people, without a great enough commitment beyond their own desires, will pursue their needs and wants in the easiest way possible. This is not always necessarily bad. For example, it drives people to industry and efficiency. Why would I learn to write html code to design this blog when I could simply use the wonderfully simple tool of WordPress?

And yet, this pursuit of self-interest along the path that creates the least friction in that pursuit often is wrong, both subtly and not so subtly. The untrained human nature will tend to try to cheat on a test if there is no possibility it could be found out and it will guarantee them an A. But it is not always so obvious and most often is more about a balancing act between integrity—doing right—and lack thereof. Can I get a good grade in this class by only skimming the book? What is the minimum number of sales I must make to earn a bonus at work? Sometimes it’s not necessarily a moral or ethical question. Will I be willing to commit a larger portion of my salary for a longer period of time in order to get that bigger house now?

See where I am going with this? Now, before those who do not believe in an external or transcendent standard of morality that would inherently condemn my suggestions that there is a fundamental right and wrong, follow me to my more practical conclusion…in my next couple of posts.


Introduction to Blog Content

So what can you find here?

In my last post, I addressed key areas that I intend to pursue in this blog: politics, economics, finances and history, and not necessarily in that order of importance.

No, I’m not going to be the political commentator who rambles about the rigged elections or uses the blog to voice my personal frustrations with the political process and/or our political “leaders.” (Well, perhaps I should offer myself an out with this one and clarify: that will not be my usual purpose.) Namely, this will not be a soap box.

Rather, it will be my attempt to shed much-needed light on topics that desperately need to be understood in the context of today’s world and current events. As a school teacher by profession, my angle will be educational, writing posts that build on each other, drawing on sources and people who are experts in the areas discussed and attempting to relay and explain these topics with clarity.

Such as…

  • Why is understanding human nature so important to understanding the topics addressed in this blog?
  • How can we break out of the “left” vs. “right” paradigm?
  • What is libertarianism (classical liberalism) and why do I agree with its principles? How can it be compatible with Christianity? Isn’t libertarianism all about promoting prostitution and marijuana? (Answer: far from it, though much of current mainstream party activists would make you believe otherwise.)
  • Did you know two of our key Founders wrote the fundamental doctrine of Nullification—the idea that states are the ultimate authority on the constitutionality of federal laws? In light of that, should the Supreme Court really be the final say on the Constitution?
  • What in the world is the Austrian school of economics? Did you actually know that it espouses the only viable theory for business cycles and the reason behind the 2008 financial crisis? And that this is the only theory on the business cycle (don’t worry; I’ll clarify this too!) that won one of its founders a Nobel Prize? Did you also know that Keynesian economics has dictated economic policy in much of the world since the 1930s?
  • Is it really worth holding some of your wealth in gold or silver? Dave Ramsey says to never invest in it! So why would you consider buying it?

Start to see the range of topics? I will be as broad as the theories of a liberty-based society and sometimes as detailed as providing the numbers of the unfunded liabilities of Social Security.

Recall: I feel a deep obligation to relay truth, not a recitation of the evening news. As Thomas E. Woods Jr., an indispensable voice for liberty (and a source I will frequently reference), often says, I intend to challenge “Fashionable Opinion” where it has gone awry. And awry it has gone! I’ve certainly got my work cut out for me.


Why On Earth Do We Need Another Blog?

If you have ever considered being a teacher: stop, think, and re-think the decision. Now, don’t get me wrong; I would choose no other career. I am a teacher, and I love it.

But it is not a career for the faint of heart. Certainly, I could meander into political and policy positions that make the actual career a challenge (perhaps, at some point, given the nature of this blog, I will). I could also send a cold chill down the spines of those who want to leave their work at work—the great fantasy world of the teacher! But I need neither approach to address my original comment: teaching is not for the faint of heart.

To leave you hanging for a moment, follow me on a necessary tangent.

I will candidly and readily admit that in beginning this blog, I am rather overwhelmed. The blogging world is a madhouse (I use the word in good taste, as I am, after all, endorsing it), with a myriad to choose from and read.

My particular bent with this blog will enter a field seemingly no less crowded: political commentary, economic analysis, financial recommendations, historical clarifications, and my own occasional musings on these and perhaps other related topics.

And for a little bit of whiplash, back to my comments on teaching.

Having earned my degree in Social Studies Education, I have learned more in the process of teaching than I ever learned in school. Most of us understand this to be the case: if you truly want to understand something, teach it. Still, I would suggest that the nuance goes further.

A good teacher has a strict moral responsibility to accuracy and the pursuit of truth. As I have learned extensively more through my own reading, studying and teaching, my understanding of the topics I mentioned above (politics, economics, finances and history) have burgeoned into a scope that require I represent these topics ever more accurately and truly to my students. As James warned his readers in James 3:1, a greater responsibility falls on those who teach: those who are entrusted with passing on knowledge and, consequently, influencing the lives of others.

Okay. So where I am going with all this rambling? To my concluding point of this post and my introductory point of this blog: it is my passion to continue learning that I may better teach, and to continue teaching that I may continue to learn. And in that process, I use this blog as an avenue. (I will offer further specifics on my focal points in the next post.)

So why on earth do we need another blog? Perhaps we don’t. But I do, born out of my own sense of obligation and passion. And perhaps, just maybe, my own commentary may be used to help inform, teach and even influence others along my own conduit of learning.